New river­boat to ride the Mis­sis­sippi in New Or­leans

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - Explore - BY STACEY PLAISANCE

Few ex­pe­ri­ences cap­ture old New Or­leans and the Mis­sis­sippi River quite like a pad­dle­wheel river­boat com­ing round the muddy bend with its toot­ing whis­tle horn, tow­er­ing smoke stacks and wa­ter-churn­ing pro­pel­ler.

This month the first new river­boat in more than a decade is set to launch in this Louisiana port city. A plunge in tourism after Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in 2005 forced the New Or­leans Steam­boat Co. to sell off one of its two boats, but the ar­rival of the City of New Or­leans is a sign of the steadily ris­ing tide of tourists each year to this South­ern city of Mardi Gras fame.

“Peo­ple come from all over the world. It is as­ton­ish­ing. They re­ally want to see the river,” said Adri­enne Thomas, mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for the compa- ny, which also owns an­other river­boat, the Natchez.

A cen­tury ago, count­less pad­dle­wheel river­boats plied the Mis­sis­sippi and its trib­u­taries. To­day, New Or­leans has two: the Natchez and the Cre­ole Queen, which is op­er­ated by New Or­leans Pad­dle­wheels.

Now the City of New Or­leans is com­ing full cir­cle, back to the state where it was built in 1991. For years it op­er­ated as a casino boat in Rock Is­land, Illi­nois, un­til the mid-1990s. But after that state le­gal­ized on­shore casi­nos, the boat be­came ob­so­lete, said Matthew Dow, project man­ager head­ing the ves­sel’s ren­o­va­tion. The then-named “Casino Rock Is­land” sat un­used for years un­til it was pur­chased by the New Or­leans Steam­boat Co. in 2016.

“We in­stantly fell in love with the boat,” Dow said. “We saw the po­ten­tial in her and knew that we could do her jus­tice and bring her back not only to her for­mer glory but well be­yond that.”

Dow said the ves­sel al­ready looked the part of a New Or­leans river­boat, with its curved decks, plen­ti­ful win­dows, dec­o­ra­tive fleurs de lis and gi­ant pad­dle­wheel.

Ini­tially it was brought to a dry dock for hull re­pairs, then towed to New Or­leans for a makeover.

“We had to rip all of the walls out, all the ceil­ings, a lot of the in­su­la­tion,” Dow said. “Ba­si­cally, we had to strip this boat down to the su­per­struc­ture, to bare bones, and ev­ery­thing had to go back new.”

There were ad­di­tions, too. A dumb waiter was added to con­nect the gal­ley to all three decks for food trans­port, along with pas­sen­ger el­e­va­tors and hand­i­capped-ac­ces­si­ble re­strooms. The As­so­ci­ated Press was given the first look at the new river­boat re­cently.

Dow says the com­pany is aim­ing to have the boat ready for tours by Jan. 21, when the Natchez goes into its an­nual ser­vice and main­te­nance layup. After that, both boats will op­er­ate si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

The two river­boats look sim­i­lar, both painted red and white with gi­ant red pad­dle­wheels and ex­te­rior deck space for close-up views by pas­sen­gers of the gi­ant pro­pel­ler. But the new boat has more in­door space.

Cruises on the City of New Or­leans will in­clude nar­ra­tion about the city and shore­line sights.

And there will be plenty of live band mu­sic.

GER­ALD HER­BERT AP

The City of New Or­leans river­boat is com­ing full cir­cle, back to the state where it was built in 1991. For years it op­er­ated as a casino boat in Illi­nois un­til the mid-1990s.

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